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SCHOOL/ Why studying philosophy is still worthwhile

April Mon 16, 2012

It takes a genius to ask the right questions  It takes a genius to ask the right questions

Oscar Wilde once wrote that anyone can give answers, but it takes a genius to ask the real questions. But can a person learn to be a genius? One’s first thought is to say no because geniality seems to be a natural talent or an individual’s exceptional gift. Yet, if we think about it, there is a sort of "geniality" which is almost native to our intelligence (regardless of whether or not we are geniuses). It is the one mentioned at the beginning of Descartes' Discourse on Method (1637). It is the best distributed thing in the world, "naturally equal in all men". It is common sense or reason, namely "the ability to make correct judgments, discerning truth from falsehood". Thus, the diversity of our opinions does not arise from the fact that some possess a greater amount of intelligence than others, but from the fact that we follow different paths and we do not take the same things into consideration. Because of this, Descartes warns, "it is not enough to have good wits: the essential thing is to apply them well". This means that one can learn, and must if one does not want to give up one’s ingenuity, to recognize the way to exercise this reason, or better, the "method" required to reach the truth (and avoid falsehood). That is why it is not contradictory to say that geniuses are born to the extent that they become geniuses.

Perhaps it is on this level that one can answer the question about whether or not it is still worthwhile to study philosophy. Traditional solutions to this question (especially with regard to the inclusion of the subject "philosophy" in school curricula) consisted mainly in claiming that learning philosophy has two functions: an "architectural" function, according to which philosophy has the task of connecting the different fields of knowledge into a unified framework aiming toward the objective of all knowledge; and a "critical" function, through which students can reflect on and assess their own knowledge and the motivations for their actions. The first function is now probably much weaker than the Italian historicist tradition, one that found expression in the paradigmatic Gentile reform of the school system. Other trends, albeit in different ways and with very different perspectives, entered into this tradition, such as those of Croce's historicism, Gramsci’s philosophy, the trend of secular neo-Enlightenment, and that of the  religious tradition of hermeneutics.



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